An air-sprung inline shock makes me think of the three Ls: low weight, a lockout switch, and maybe some lycra as well. Sure, that isn't always the case, especially now that more and more hard charging riders seem to be seeing how much fun it is to ride mid-travel bikes, but it's not too far fetched to say that the current crop of inline shocks seem to put more emphasis on dropping grams than actual suspension performance when you want to drop into a hairball section of singletrack. Cane Creek is looking to change that perception, though, with their new $495 USD DBinline shock that, as its name suggests, forgoes using a piggyback as found on their standard DBair CS and Coil shocks. However, what the DBinline doesn't renounce is the twin-tube layout and four-way adjustable damping that Cane Creek's shocks have become widely known for. It also features the company's novel Climb Switch pedalling aid that firms up both the low-speed rebound and compression instead of a traditional lock-out feature as is common on other inline offerings.
Development of the DBinline
This last point raises the question - what type of rider the DBinline is intended for? After all, it'd be fair to assume that most riders who are interested in an inline shock are the types who might want to lock out their bike's suspension for the climbs. ''We want to make little bikes ride big, so it was more important to have it feel like it does than to hit a weight target,
'' Cane Creek's Josh Coaplen, VP of Engineering, explained to Pinkbike. He readily admits that the DBinline is 80 - 100 grams heavier than some of the competition when comparing shocks of the similar length, but that relatively small penalty is one that Cane Creek seems okay with. ''We're looking for the person who is going to put a set of real tires on their bike, and they're probably going to do something like put a 140mm fork on their 120mm travel bike. That's probably going to be the person who buys an Inline, not the guy who's stripping his bike down to put titanium bolts on it,
'' he says. Weight is really only a small part of the story, though, because the real challenge facing Cane Creek during the DBinline's development was how they were going to shoehorn their complicated damper layout into a shock that needed to have a similar silhouette to the diminutive inline shocks already on the market, something that was considered a necessity in order for it to be compatible with as many bikes as possible.
|We want to make little bikes ride big, so it was more important to have it feel like it does than to hit a weight target.- Josh Coaplen, VP of Engineering|
The DBinline has been in development for about two years now, and it was actually well along in its evolution when Cane Creek debuted their DBair CS shock in early July of last year, although Coaplen did confess to Pinkbike that the Inline took about six months longer than they expected when the project was initiated. ''We started working in earnest on the new shock in mid-2012, and we were riding prototypes in early 2013, although these were a little bit different looking than what you're seeing now,
'' he said of the process. ''It took longer than it was supposed to, and it was really tough. We're trying to do a lot of things in a really small package. Right when we started, I didn't know how we were going to do it. One of the criteria at the time was that it needed to fit within the same shadow as a Float CTD shock. We didn't know how to do this at first, and it took a lot of trial and error to get that concept right.
'' The effort began by obtaining 3D models of the bikes that the shock might be used on, which, as you might expect, makes for quite a long list - remember that Cane Creek couldn't only consider bikes that the Inline might come on from the manufacturer, but also those that might see the shock bolted on as an upgrade. These clearance concerns were especially relevant when talking about small sized frames with tighter confines than medium and larges.
Producing rapid prototyped models was the next step, with Cane Creek able to fabricate non-functioning plastic models of the shock and its vital parts that allowed them to physically check the shock's clearance throughout its stroke. The models also have a second purpose - they gave the engineers at Cane Creek an opportunity to see their ideas take shape without having to machine what would be very expensive one-off prototypes. That's not to say that the DBinline went straight from the computer to what you see here, however, as they still had to assemble functioning proof of concept examples that would let them test their theories. And one of those theories that needed to be investigated was the bladder, although, given its gently domed shape, referring to it as a diaphragm makes more sense. The DBinline's diaphragm takes the place of the internal floating piston (IFP
) that you'll find in Cane Creek's and other company's piggyback shocks, and it's what compensates for the oil displacement as the shock is compressed - the oil sits on one side and a nitrogen charge on the other.
This idea of using a diaphragm is far from a new concept, but the layout did represent some challenges for the team behind the DBinline: ''Getting the bladder right was tough, and we through seven different versions. Its shape, material, and even figuring out its installation was really hard,
'' said Coaplen about taking the idea from sketches to working prototypes. ''The way ours works, it's not like a traditional bladder that clips into something. It's basically a diaphragm, so we had to get it to seal well enough that we could install the end-eye without deforming it. We also didn't want any way for the nitrogen to be able to bypass it and get into the oil. There's industry guidelines for things like o-rings and stuff, and there are programs that can tell you exactly what you need given your dimensions, but that doesn't exist for a diaphragm. We have a vendor in the U.S. that makes them custom for us.
A handful of prototype DBinline shocks were assembled during development, but two important versions stood out: one to test the bladder system using a conventional DBair CS shock, and another to test the new Inline shock's damping circuits with the standard piggyback and IFP arrangement, with the idea being to either prove or disprove the two major design theories behind the DBinline separately. The first involved taking a conventional DBair CS shock, completely gutting its piggyback so that it could fill with oil, and then installing a Schrader valve at its end. A one-off unit that contained the diaphragm was then threaded onto it and pressurized from the opposite side, thereby letting them evaluate the diaphragm setup apart from the DBinline shock itself. The second experiment saw Cane Creek take a functioning DBinline shock that was still in the prototype phase and attach the piggyback from one of their production shocks, thereby eliminating the diaphragm from the test. Clever stuff.
While all of the above might sound like a tricky task, the real challenge came when it was time to stuff all of the damping capability and adjustment of Cane Creek's standard DBair CS into the new Inline shock. Exactly how hard was this? Just to give you an idea of the space constraints, Coaplen and his team had to figure out a way to squeeze all of the functions found in the piggyback, shock bridge, and end-eye of the DBair CS into a space just 13mm high. That's just barely over half of one inch, by the way, or about the height of your thumb. I imagine that this would be roughly akin to telling the inventors of the cellphone, back in the mid 1970s, that they now had to come up with the same thing but to keep it at the dimensions of an iPhone 5. ''Because it has to be so small, we had to get a lot of channels in a really small volume, which made the layout of the oil circuits really tough. There's a lot happening in there.
'' In fact, manufacturing the oil circuits was so difficult that Cane Creek had to try a few different methods before they settled on one that would allow them to manufacture a consistent product. Early attempts saw them try to come up with an oil circuit unit that was machined out of a single piece of aluminum, an unbelievably complex and expensive approach that required the CNC machine to mill away material so precisely that it ended up not being a feasible approach when they considered the number of units they needed to produce. The alternative, while weighing a few grams more, was to take a simpler approach and then blank-off the sections via plugs that are installed after machining, a method that Cane Creek says is much more reliable.
You likely get the picture by now: Cane Creek is aiming to make the DBair smaller, lighter, and more compatible than their current offerings. But what about the damping functions that the North Carolina company is so well known for? After all, it wouldn't really be a Double Barrel shock if if didn't employ a twin-tube layout and offer independent low- and high-speed compression and rebound, right? Exactly. Cane Creek felt the same, and although the DBinline makes their older shocks look a little bloated, it still has all of the same adjustments on tap. Things have been simplified inside, though, with Coaplen telling us that the new shock doesn't have a single piece in common with the DBair CS. ''It doesn't share a part. We tried to do it similar to our DBair CS, and our early prototypes were very much like that, but it was a pain in the ass - it's so small in there.
'' But it's not just initial assembly time that has to be taken into consideration, either, because whoever rebuilds the shock down the road has to be able to do the job without any major hassles. ''A service center needs to be able to work on it with a pretty standard set of tools, and we can't require them to have stuff like a journal bearing press with a force gauge on it,
'' he adds.
|For the same length shock, ours weighs roughly 80 - 90 grams more, and we have about 40% more oil than the next nearest competitor. That helps a lot. You don't have to have that extra oil, but we chose to have the extra oil. We could have made a lower oil volume shock, but we wanted a certain size of main piston, so we consciously said that we're going to be okay with being heavier. However, the added oil isn't what differentiates that DBinline's feel; it's the valving.- Josh Coaplen, VP of Engineering|
The philosophy behind a Double Barrel shock and something more traditional, say a FOX Float CTD, is inherently different, and anyone who has spent time on both offerings will know that the different approaches result in a very different feel on the trail. Is one method clearly better than the other? That depends on who you ask, but I've always been of the opinion that, depending on the setup, Cane Creek is able to offer a shock that can be both more forgiving and more controlled on rough ground, something that could be traced back to Cane Creek controlling more of the oil flow in their layout. ''Most of the damping control on a shock like a Float CTD is through the main piston shims, whereas on the DBinline, on compression only, we have the main stack on the piston, we have the high-speed poppet, and we have the low-speed poppet that's able to be turned on and off with the Climb Switch.' On rebound we just have the poppet and the low-speed orifice; there's no shims on the rebound side of the piston, just like in the DBair CS. There's no way you could get the curves of a CTD and a Inline to fall on top of each other on a dyno - they're fundamentally different.
'' The question is, then, do other suspension companies want their inline shocks, or any of their shocks, to emulate that feel? ''I don't think that they want to,
'' Coaplen says when we posed that exact question to him. ''To be honest, we get feedback from guys like you that tell us whether or not it's doing what it should do, and I'm assuming they do as well. So, depending on what group or type of rider you prioritize the most, you'll end up with a different result. If you look at damping values on a dyno, most inline shocks follow the same "style" of damping characteristics, except our new Inline that follows the style of a DBair CS.
The exact same thing could be said of Cane Creek's Climb Switch function that, rather then simply adding a bucket load of compression damping or even completely locking the shock out, applies a more subtle amount of damping to both the low-speed compression and rebound circuits. We've spent plenty of time using the system on their DBair CS shock and can attest to its traction-adding abilities, but that's on a piggyback shock, not a relatively lightweight inline model that might be found on a lighter duty bike that could see much more pure cross-country use. Might a rider using an inline shock still prefer a traditionally firm lockout? ''That's a legitimate concern. I don't know how this happened, but it's been really positive, in that the engineering section of Cane Creek has been given a lot of the product management responsibility, and so it's kind of like what we want as riders is what gets translated into the product.
'' That doesn't mean that it's what everyone wants, obviously, but Cane Creek is hedging their bets that their Climb Switch system will find traction with more and more riders. European riders in particular, and especially the sometimes conservative European product managers that decide what to spec on their bikes, might prefer a stiffer CS function, and Coaplen did divulge that exact thing may come to be. He also admitted that they do have prototype DBinline shocks that have a three-position CS switch, although all production models with continue with the standard two-position setup due to none of the testers taking advantage of the lever's extra position. Plans are afoot for a handlebar mounted remote as well, with Cane Creek working on two options: one for bikes with a single chain ring that will be designed to mount on the left side of the handlebar in place of a shifter, and another that will work better on bikes equipped with both a front and rear shifter. Either will be able to be added to any DBinline that came stock with the shock-mounted lever.
Riding the DBinline
Rather than flying in to North Carolina to ride unfamiliar trails on an even more unfamiliar bike, which is the usual routine when being introduced to new product, I was lucky enough to be able to bring my 2015 Knolly Warden test bike (similar to the one pictured below
), a machine that I was able to put loads of miles on before visiting Cane Creek. The benefit to this was two fold in that not only was I well acquainted with the bike, but also with how it performed with the DBair CS shock that it comes from Knolly with. We also flew in about a month before the official press camp took place, a tactic that gave us some exclusive one-on-one time with the engineers and testers responsible for the shock going from sketches to working prototypes to production units. In other words, it wasn't your typical in and out media junket.
Is this a test? No, no it isn't, so don't take it as one. I am, however, pretty confident in my assessment of Cane Creek's new shock. Enough techno-talk rambling, right? Let's get on with how the DBinline felt on the trail...
We stopped to install the DBinline after spending the first part of the first ride on the Warden's stock DBair CS, and then continued on what I can only describe as one of the rougher and difficult trails that I've spent time on recently. Anyone who's ridden a Double Barrel shock is familiar with their fluid yet very controlled feel, and the new DBinline continues with that same theme. In fact, it's just as responsive at the top of its stroke as its predecessor, and it offers the same range of adjustment via its dials, although the fact that Cane Creek has reduced the number of clicks to twelve for both low-speed ranges will come as a welcome fact for knob turners. We made a few minor tweaks after the first ride - a touch more low-speed rebound and compression control - and found that the new shock's dials are very effective, just as those on the DBair CS.
|The DBinline felt mightily impressive, enough so that, for a rider who spends his or her time on a mid-travel bike, we really do think that it's a game changer.- Mike Levy|
One other fact quickly became apparent as well: the DBinline feels very much like Cane Creek's other air-sprung shock throughout its stroke. This is in contrast to other inline offerings on the market that all tend to feel as if they are heavier damped than their piggyback counterparts, although this is something that Cane Creek's competitors could be designing-in on purpose. It is certainly not the case with the DBinline, with it providing a deep feel that no other inline shock we've ever spent time on can compare to, and there is none of the slightly harsh sensation that most inline shocks seem to pass through to the rider on high-speed trail chatter. As you might have guessed, this translates to what feels like added traction during times when you might be happy to trade just about anything for some extra grip - picture fast, rough corners that would otherwise upset a short-travel bike that's being pushed hard. The stroke also felt progressive enough to keep our Warden from bottoming out harshly, although we certainly touched the end of the stroke on one or two occasions. Cane Creek's decision to only offer the shock with a single, high-volume air can and then allow riders to tune the ramp-up via volume reducing shims does make sense, but it will require riders to take the time make any necessary changes in order to get the most from the diminutive shock.
The DBinline felt mightily impressive, enough so that for a rider who spends his or her time on a mid-travel bike, we really do think that it's a game changer. This isn't the shock for a rider who's going to be spending time in a bike park or doing lift-accessed runs, however, as we do believe that that type of rider is going to benefit from the higher oil volume of a piggyback shock. That said, Cane Creek designed the $495 USD DBinline to be used on bikes sporting 120 - 150mm of travel, and the bottom line is that it's going to increase the capabilities of any mid-travel bike that it's bolted to. www.canecreek.com